House Sends Message on Postponing Election

Posted July 19, 2004 at 6:36pm

In a slap at Bush administration officials who have warned terrorists may try to influence U.S. elections, key House Republicans are backing a “sense of the House” resolution affirming that federal elections will never be postponed in the face of threats or attacks and that no individual or agency will be granted the authority to postpone the date of a presidential election.

“This resolution will send a message around our nation and around the world that the United States will not be bullied by terrorism,” said Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). “The will and confidence of the American people remains strong and undeterred, and on Nov. 2 we will once again show the world why the United States is the world’s strongest and greatest democracy.”

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio), author of the resolution, said he already has 66 co-sponsors for the measure and expects even broader support.

Ney said he drafted the language in response to “dangerous conversation” suggesting “one person be given the authority to postpone a federal election” in the event of a terrorist attack.

The postponement controversy erupted when Election Assistance Chairman DeForest Soaries told reporters recently that he had written to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to find out what sort of contingency plans were in place should terrorists strike on Election Day. Soaries noted in his correspondence to Ridge that just such a scenario had unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists struck New York City and authorities were left scrambling until the governor and State Board of Elections eventually decided they had to suspend the city’s primary elections.

“Unlike New York, the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and re-schedule a federal election,” Soaries noted in the letter, which offered the EAC’s expertise in making contingency plans for a potential terrorist attack. Soaries remarks — and Ridge’s subsequent, unofficial, referral of Soaries’ letter to the Justice Department — triggered an outcry from many in Congress who felt that the executive branch was overreaching.

“Such questions and such debate go to the heart of our democratic process,” said Ney. “Therefore, it is important for the People’s House to speak with one voice and state without reservation that the confidence of the American people in our democratic process will not fall victim to terrorist threats or terrorist attacks, and our elections will take place as scheduled on Nov. 2.”

Noting that no presidential election has ever been halted in the history of the United States, including during the “raging Civil War,” Ney called any discussion of moving back national elections and granting postponement authority to one individual “dangerous talk” and said he felt the resolution was needed to set the record straight for the American people.

Ney added that he suspected Ridge was behind all the confusion, but suggested that the Cabinet member ought not entertain any thoughts of postponing any election, under any circumstance.

“I can tell you Secretary Ridge has no option but to defer to Congress on this. He’s Homeland Security. He’s not a Member of Congress. He has no options,” Ney said.